Gay rights supporters are infuriated over a federal court decision Thursday to deny five gay men in Florida the right to adopt children--even though those children have been in the men's care for years on a foster basis.
"We are living in dangerous times," said former talk-show host Rosie O'Donnell, who, along with her partner, Kelli, is a member and supporter of the Family Pride Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group for GLBT parents. O'Donnell helped to shine a national spotlight on Florida's ban on adoptions by gays, even coming out in a televised 2002 Primetime Live interview to shed light on the case. "The struggle for civil rights continues," O'Donnell said. "It is my hope this case will be heard by the Supreme Court, where this absurd discriminatory decision will be reversed. What a sad day for all Americans."
The American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project represented the three plaintiff families. Steve Lofton, one of the plaintiffs in the case, and his partner, Roger Croteau, have been the only parents that their son Bert, now 12, has known since he was an infant. A second couple, Wayne Smith and Dan Skahen, are foster parents who were hoping to adopt a child. Another man, Doug Houghton, has been the legal guardian of a boy for at least seven years. Although the child's biological father gave his approval for Houghton to become the legal parent, Houghton can't adopt under Florida law.
Florida is the only state in the nation with a complete ban on adoption by gays, whether married or single. The law--passed at the height of Anita Bryant's antigay crusade against nondiscrimination laws in Florida in the late 1970s--has withstood several challenges in state court. Florida argued that the state has a right to legislate its "moral disapproval of homosexuality" and its belief that children need a married parent for healthy development. More than 3,400 children await homes in Florida.
"Anyone who truly cares about children knows that subjecting them to a series of temporary homes and no real sense of family cannot possibly be in their best interest, especially when there are loving and capable same-sex parents ready to open their homes and hearts to them," said Human Rights Campaign president Cheryl Jacques. "This ruling places a higher premium on antiquated and discriminatory assumptions about gay and lesbian people than on the best interests of the state's children and families."
"We exercise great caution when asked to take sides in an ongoing public policy debate," Judge Stanley Birch wrote in the unanimous decision by the three-judge panel. "Any argument that the Florida legislature was misguided in its decision is one of legislative policy, not constitutional law."
Gov. Jeb Bush said he is "pleased" by the ruling. It validates Florida's contention "that it is in the best interest of adoptive children, many of whom come from troubled and unstable backgrounds, to be placed in a home anchored both by a father and a mother," he said in a statement.
The ACLU expects to take at least a week before deciding how to proceed. It could ask the full appeals court to consider the issue or even the U.S. Supreme Court. Edward Schiappa, a University of Minnesota law professor who follows gay rights issues, believes the case is destined for Supreme Court review next year. He believes the state will have a hard time defending the law there because of its inconsistent policy allowing gay foster parents while barring gays from adopting. "This has become an extraordinarily hot political button," he said.
"This decision is a crushing blow, not only to the plaintiff families but to gay and lesbian parents all over the country," said Aimee Gelnaw, executive director of the Family Pride Coalition. "The judges in this case didn't just rule against gay dads and lesbian moms. They ruled against every gay and lesbian person in Florida who has considered adoption but thought it not possible in their home state."